Labour Weekend 2016 Mountain Bike Trip – Lakes, Falls and Rivers
At Labour weekend 2016 I joined Jenny and David Olsen’s mountain biking trip to Taupō – my first mountain biking experience ever, (on my eldest son’s borrowed bike), and I had the most amazing time.
Recipe for a memorable trip:
- Have an super-organised, friendly, helpful, accommodating trip leader
- Stay in perfect (well almost!) lakeside accommodation
- Gather a wonderfully diverse group of fun-loving people (16 of us altogether)
- Share yummy dinners (I still can’t stop smiling when I think that Christine and I both brought home-grown rhubarb and apple crumble for dessert).
- Hit some stunningly beautiful trails, with more variety than I could dream of - long sweeping views, constantly changing terrain, meadows, cliff tops, bush, river banks, twists and turns, ups and downs, muddy troughs, blossom, spring fragrances, ducklings, calves, sail-boats, bungy-jumpers, geckos, birdsong … heavenly
- Add the excitement of a rough bumpy boat transfer, with Charlie the chilled-out crew dog.
- The end-of-day relaxation in a hot pool
- And of course the magic, unpredictable ingredient of clear blue skies, warm sunshine, and a cool breeze
Day 1 – Ian, Paul and I travelled up to join Jenny and the rest of the team in Taupō after work on Friday; the much anticipated grind out of Wellington was far less delaying than expected. We had glorious sunshine until dusk, when out of the blue, torrential rain made driving unpleasant, but by then I had topped up my Spring happiness bucket with the sight of field after field of gorgeous new calves, the light green leaves starting to cover all the trees, and the beautiful blossoms. There’s something about Spring that lights me up inside and gets me planning big projects in the garden and tramping/camping trips with the kids. On arrival around 10.30pm we found that most of our fellow trip-mates had retired for the night, so with the promise (!?) of an early start, we hit the sack.
Day 2 – Bikes loaded up on Jenny and David’s trailer (the most treasured trip-prop), we set off in convoy around the new bypass. Some questioned the accuracy of David’s GPS, but it successfully got all 16 of us to part of the Great Lake Trail that starts out along the Waihaha river.
The ride along the cliff top was exhilarating, and we shared (for me at least) a memorable moment/trip highlight at a viewpoint looking down over the Waihaha river. Way down below near the valley bottom, a waterfall came tumbling down out of the bush into an idyllic swimming hole with a beautiful-looking beach. We spent a little while debating how on earth we could get there, it looked too good to be true. Would we bush-bash down through 100s of feet of steep dense bush, or kayak several kms up from the lake, no doubt navigating waterfalls, shallows and white water?
Leaving our fantasy adventure behind, we continued our bike ride inland along grassy, sandy tracks, through chasms in the bush, and past the great slab of echo rock, people cycling ahead and behind as their mood and energy levels took them. Our trip leaders making sure we re-grouped, were not left behind, and had plenty of photo and ‘taking a breather’ opportunities.
It took me a while to get the hang of my son’s bike and gears, being previously only a round-about-town cyclist on a regular bicycle; I had no idea that there is so much more to mountain biking
I discovered the hard way (many times) that if you mess up your gears on steep ascents, there is no time to address the balance, I would simply grind to a halt and fall off sideways. And even when I got the gears right, (internally congratulating myself for keeping it going) I then discovered that if you don’t lean forward on the steep uphills, your front wheel lifts off the ground, your bike does a wheelie, and ... you fall off.
Steering round sharp corners was another unexpected challenge, particularly when preceded by an exciting downhill stretch. I just loved going a bit kamikaze down the hills and I couldn’t stop myself from letting a big happy ‘woohoo, or weeeeeeeee’ as down I flew. Probably childish, but it was such fun, and I was so happy to be alive! But heading fast downhill into a sharp corner can also, of course, be a bit exciting. Paul, riding behind me at one stage, was witness to one near wipe-out, but I recovered well (this was Ian’s favourite observation of my riding skills!). I tried out Jenny’s one-foot-down controlled glide round the corners but couldn’t quite figure that out, so adopted a ‘pulse’ braking technique that (sometimes) allowed me to slow down, steer, keep my balance and end up upright and on track – wow – so much to concentrate on!
The end of our ride wound down beside the beautiful Kotukutuku Stream to Waihora Bay (30km from our starting point). As we awaited our shuttle boat, the chill of the end of the day started to creep in (cue extra layers being put back on), and our adventure continued as the wind picked up and the waves were rough on the lake. When our boat arrived, the bikes had to be loaded 2 at a time at shore, but then strapped into the rack off-shore by the able boatman, who deftly manoeuvred with a bike in one hand around the side of the boat while a passenger steered!
The ride back to Kinloch was exciting, (quite bumpy), but made all the more reassuring by Charlie the crew dog resting his head, blissfully unconcerned, on Don’s leg. The day was topped off with a well-deserved relax in the DeBretts hot pools. A ‘bubble’ massage on the back of those tired legs was wonderful, until the little one said ‘roll over’, and we all rolled over and made room for the next tired, happy cyclist on the bubble platform
Day 3 - After a lazy start, we set out from our holiday home to the lakeside cycleway. The views of the Tongariro mountains were simply spectacular – clear tops covered with snow. More glorious sunshine, clusters of sail boats on the lake, and heaps of geese, ducks and ducklings by the shore. The float-boats made me think of Indianna Jones, and watching the bungy-jumping and Huka Falls jet-boaters doing spins and splashes round the falls added to the feel of the day. We lost a few people along the way, through detours, bungy-jump spectating and ad hoc stoppages, but with magnetic precision we all reunited at the Huka Falls in a peaceful grassy glade on the quiet, less frequented side. Here we soaked up the sun, picnicked, snoozed, and chatted in what felt like (for me at least) luxurious unhurried, nothing to do, nowhere to go, mother’s paradise! Another BBQ, another rhubarb and apple crumble with ice-cream, custard and chocolate sauce (such decadence unheard of in my normal life!), and an early night topped off the end of another fantastic day. I was getting a little saddle sore, but I was high on happiness.
Day 4 – No time for the go-ing home blues, we were packed up, key returned and en route for our final riding hurrah by around 10am. Our destination today, the Tongariro River Trail in Turangi as recommended by Jeanette – and now endorsed by the trip team I imagine. A beautiful, gentle two-hour loop up one side of the river, through bush and meadows, past anglers in full, slightly peculiar looking waterproofness/camouflage, over bridges and back down the other side to our starting point. Well actually, not quite to our starting point, we enjoyed one final pit stop at the Creel Tackle House and Café where the home-baked pastries were sooooo delicious. Then, feeling suitably exercised, refreshed, happiness bucket well and truly filled up, all worries blown away, high on the pleasure of spending time in beautiful surroundings and feeling well and truly blessed to have shared the experience with such a great group of people, we said our farewells and returned home.
- Party members
- Jeanette Martin, David Olsen (co-leader), Christine Ben Tovin, Tricia Walbridge, Lois Buckrell, Paul Bruce, Jenny Olsen (co-leader) (organiser), Julia Fraser, Ian Howat, Donna Jennings, Vince Jennings, Jane-Pyar Mautner, Don Crump, Alison O'Shea, Barbara Crump, Anna Davison (scribe)